TV: A salute to 'Arrested Development'
Man, I'm going to miss this show.
"Arrested Development" ended its third season, and maybe its last, on FOX last night. Watching the final four episodes this morning (we had a party to go to last night and taped them; hey Patrick!), they were as top-notch as ever for TV's funniest sitcom, a delirious frenzy of in-jokes, taboo humor, double entendres, and a kind of wacky closure to the saga of the Bluth family. At the moment, the show's future is uncertain -- it might get picked up by another network -- but if it had to end, last night was one heck of a swan song.
What a calvacade of all the ideas that made "AD" great -- ventriloquism, cousins marrying, incest jokes, Saddam Hussein, scrapbooking, William Hung, a demented spin on the Terri Schiavo case, magic tricks, strange guest-stars (Judge Reinhold, Richard Melzer, Ron Howard and star Jason Bateman's sister Justine among last night's highlights). The final episodes were like a great gift to the fans. Classic stuff.
It's not hard to see why the critically acclaimed "AD" never quite clicked with mainstream America, though. The show was defiantly oddball, with unsympathetic, unlikable characters for the most part (it's a credit to the actors that they pulled off their roles, making them roguishly charming and funny). Sentimentality was avoided at all costs usually, often mocked. It's not a show I instantly felt nuts about, even though I watched it from the start -- I kind of preferred "Scrubs" warmer humor; yet after a while, I realized I was hooked on "AD's" labyrinthine pop culture spin. It had some of the air of a British program like "Fawlty Towers," but paired that with a determinedly American hyperactivity and playfulness. It definitely wasn't accessible for newcomers – the twisting plot gyrates every which way, and a momentary aside in one episode might come back around randomly months later. It really probably was too smart for its own good.
Yet that was part of the joy of "AD," the sense that us few fans were all in on one wacky game. This one of the few shows that rewards endless re-viewings -- I must have missed a couple dozen jokes in last night's mini-marathon, ones I only spotted later reading about them online. Sight gags, background wit – "Arrested Development" threw everything at you including the kitchen sink, and it was up to you to catch up. Without a doubt, it had more jokes per 22-minute episode than any other show on TV (except, of course, "The O'Reilly Factor").
And of course, such high-achieving comedy couldn't last. I can't blame FOX, as they did give it three seasons. But last night, it was not only beaten in the ratings by the Winter Olympics opening (a no-brainer) but even by "Friday Night Smackdown!" wrestling on UPN. Ah, the public appetite. At least we had it while it lasted, and thank god for the DVDs.